1. Lionel Messi
After winning the award just once since 2012 and finishing fifth this year, Messi will be desperate to reclaim the crown for a record sixth time in 2019. Several factors put him in a strong position to do just that. On an individual level, Messi continues to perform better than any other player on the planet. As for his team, Barcelona are in a very strong position in La Liga and are arguably favorites for the Champions League with a relatively easy draw in the first knockout round as well. Furthermore, if the upcoming months with Barcelona do not go perfectly, Messi has the Copa America next summer with Argentina to make a better impression on the voters. Messi and Barcelona will also be helped by learning from their mistakes in the Champions League over the past three seasons. In particular, expect Messi to rest a lot more around the knockout stages to ensure that he is at his best for the matches that will likely decide the Ballon d’Or.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Despite turning 34 in just a few weeks, Ronaldo will once again be among the favorites for the award. Given Juventus’ dominance over Serie A, Ronaldo’s chances will largely hinge on whether he can win a fourth consecutive Champions League with Juventus. He also has an opportunity to win a second international trophy in the Uefa Nations League next June, but it’s unclear how much weight that tournament will carry in the voting. Ronaldo’s age and Juventus’ more cautious playing style will make it harder to match the stats of players like Messi or Lewandowski. Therefore winning at least one of the Uefa competitions is likely essential for him to have any sort of chance at a sixth Ballon d’Or in 2019.
3. Mohammed Salah
Last year looked to be the golden chance for Salah to make history as just the second African player to win the award, but his and Liverpool’s recent form put him in a strong position for another chance again next year. Liverpool are currently six points clear of second in the league, while Salah has responded to the “one season wonder” claims earlier in the campaign by scoring six goals in his last five matches. Liverpool’s league success could be a crucial edge in Salah’s favor, as the relative importance of leading them to their first league title in 29 years would far outweigh the significance of Messi, Ronaldo, or Neymar leading their team to theirs. One issue facing Salah for the award is the possibility of another Liverpool player such as Virgil van Dijk receiving more of the credit for the team’s success. However, if Salah can maintain his top form and be Liverpool’s best player over the next six months, then winning just one of the two major club trophies on offer would likely be enough to put him in serious contention for the 2019 Ballon d’Or.